A WordCamp First-Timer

Years ago, as a high school junior, I attended Yearbook Camp. This is something my family pictured as a bootcamp for nerds, and as such, has never let me live down. In fact, eight years later, my dad still cracks the occasional “Drop and give me 12-point, Times New Roman font” joke.

So when the team at CYBERsprout announced we would be attending WordCamp, I couldn’t help but draw some parallels, all the while picturing my family’s reaction upon finding out I’d be attending another “camp” for design.

For those not familiar with it, WordCamp is an annual gathering for those in the WordPress community. The conferences are held around the world, and luckily Minneapolis/St. Paul hosts one that is fairly close to Alexandria (not that I would complain about having to travel to, say, WordCamp Switzerland or WordCamp Peru).

Setting out

Ready to hit the road 

Thursday morning at 9 a.m., the team convened at the office and set out for WordCamp. Ever the prepared one, Brad greeted us with snack baskets for the weekend — which was phenomenal, because none of us brought snacks (hangry is a real thing, promise).

During the two-hour drive to the Cities, we chatted about websites we are currently working on, last year’s WordCamp, and of course, non-work related topics because we do all lead lives outside the office. We reached Minneapolis around 11:30, and Brad and Tyler set off for a workshop while Rachel and I grabbed a bite to eat and explored the area a bit.

The conference was held at the McNamara Alumni Center, part of the University of Minnesota campus. The Minnesota-themed hotel we stayed in, The Graduate, was connected via a tunnel which came in handy Friday as it poured rain. Both the venue and the hotel had unique, comforting atmospheres and are highly recommended by, well, me.

Thursday Workshop  

I chose to attend one of the Thursday workshops, titled “WooCommerce and You: A Love Story.” For those not familiar with it, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin for e-commerce. As I am still fairly new to the WordPress world, I hadn’t yet worked with WooCommerce but knew I had an upcoming project where I would need to be familiar with it.

The workshop was led by Patrick Rauland and was probably my favorite session of the weekend simply because of the amount of information that was communicated in a short time. The timing was perfect, as it prepared me for the project I have coming up. Patrick was great at explaining the steps of setting up WooCommerce and answering related questions. Of course, as we went along, my screen was the only one not matching up with everyone else in the workshop, so I got to be that person, raising my hand and saying, “Uh, yeah, I’m not seeing that.” Really, it wasn’t my fault. Blame technology for having a mind of its own at times.

Friday sessions

Friday was jam-packed full of sessions, beginning at 9 a.m. and wrapping up at 4 p.m.

One of my favorites was the first session of the day, “Business is Thriving and the Rest is Only Surviving.” The presenter was Katie Elenberger, a fellow Alexandrian. Katie spoke about the importance of work-life balance, something I (and most people in this field) have struggled with. Sometimes it can be hard to know when to stop working, since all we really need to work is our laptops and they are always near. Much of what she said resonated deeply for me and other members of the team as well.

Another highlight of Saturday’s sessions was “For Blogging Out Loud! Use your voice to blog,” led by blogger Russell Aaron. In deciding to attend the session, I was under the assumption it was about how to harness your voice and transfer that into effective blogs. Buuuuuut I was wrong. The title of the session was to be taken literally….Russell actually uses his VOICE to blog, speaking into his phone and letting it transcribe his words. As someone who has been blogging for nearly 10 years, I just couldn’t get on board with this method. For someone like Russell, who is loud and animated and energetic, it probably works great. But for me, there is something therapeutic about sitting down at a computer and letting words come from my fingertips. I often find I can make more sense of my thoughts that way versus speaking. Still, the content of the session was entertaining and intriguing.

And of course, we have to highlight our fearless leader Tyler’s session! Tyler served as the organizer and moderator for a panel titled “Ask Me Anything SEO.” SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is vital for businesses hoping to appear in online searches. The three SEO experts, Tony Tellijohn, Jen Roventine and Jennifer Bourn, took questions from the audience and gave thorough, informed responses.

After sessions wrapped up, the team reconvened for some apps and dinner at the hotel restaurant, which, much to my dismay, did not have fancy cheesecake. We then set out to a small gathering of WordPress folks at the apartment of the conference’s keynote speaker, Michelle Schulp. Once I overcame feeling overwhelmed by so many new people, I enjoyed chatting and hearing about what roles various people played in the world of development and design and how they had ended up where they did.

Saturday sessions

We were up at em’ again early Saturday morning, ready for a few more sessions before the trek home.

A highlight of Saturday was the session “The Blob, The Chunk, and The Block: Structured Content in the Era of Gutenberg,” led by John Eckman. If you’re not a WordPress user, that likely means absolutely nothing to you. In short, WordPress is rolling out a new editing platform called Gutenberg, and it has quite a learning curve.

Eckman discussed how post content was accomplished in the pre-Gutenberg world, and how the Gutenberg rollout would change that. His main point was that there is a right and wrong way to approach Gutenberg’s “block” system and that doing so requires some forethoguht about what you’d like to accomplish in a post. I had played around a bit with Gutenberg prior to this session so at least had a little familiarity, but I’ll admit I have a long way to go when it comes to the capabilities of the editing platform. I plan to begin using it on my personal blog soon though, so the session was a good introduction to what to expect.

Some final thoughts

Definitely in my element, being back on a college campus with ALL THE COFFEE nearby and easily accessible. 

When Saturday’s sessions wrapped up, we headed out for a quick lunch and then hit the road back to Alexandria. The conference was a bit of a whirlwind of information, much of which I am still unpacking and need to delve into a bit on my own.

Overall, I feel like I took away a great deal of knowledge from WordCamp. While a bit overwhelming or over my head at times, it still got me pumped about everything there is to learn when it comes to development and design. As someone who is still fairly new to this world, it’s comforting to see and speak to people who have had long, successful careers in it. It just gets me excited for what this next year will bring, and where I will be next year when WordCamp rolls around again.

Until then, I’ll be here, preparing for the next “camp,” fine tuning my “Drop and give me 12-point, Times New Roman font.” Or maybe Raleway, or Montserrat. Depends on the project.

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Beth Leipholtz

I have a passion for design and creating meaningful content while also embracing creativity. In my spare time, I am all about CrossFit, dogs, writing, nature, photography and reading.

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